It was initially believed the debris recovered by a helicopter might provide more clues in the mystery, but that debris turned out to be unrelated to the flight.
Officials were trying to get their hands on additional bits of wreckage -- including pieces that appeared to be from the inside of the plane's cabin. More teams with sophisticated equipment to recover underwater remnants are on the way.
Two separate large fields of debris, including what appeared to be a 23-foot-long piece of a plane, were spotted Tuesday about 60 miles apart in the Atlantic. Those two areas of apparent plane remnants caused some to suggest the Airbus broke up in midair.
"It almost couldn't occur unless your plane came apart in flight," said ABC News aviation consultant John Nance today.
"If the plane broke up in midair at altitude, then it's going to be covering a really large piece of real estate," said Robert Ballard, the scientist who discovered the wreck of the Titanic. "So it becomes a strategy of working within a debris field, trying to figure the physics of it."
Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris vanished Sunday night, about four hours into its journey.
Before it disappeared, failures in the plane's systems began to generate automated maintenance messages that were sent to the airline 10 minutes after the pilots sent a text message to Air France indicating they were encountering turbulence and thunderstorms.
The automatic messages, received during the course of three minutes, indicated a growing series of electrical and equipment failures just before the plane disappeared, according to published reports. Some reports suggest the aircraft flew through electrically charged clouds and 100-mile-per-hour winds.
"One of the things that puzzle me, and I think a lot of us, is the fact that we have 10 minutes that elapsed between the time the crew reported they were flying around cumulus nimbus buildups and the time this unraveling sequence began," Nance said. "But there's one lesson from a lot of history of aviation accident investigations, and that is: It can look like two things are connected when, in fact, they aren't."
"There's a period where you see many systems degrading very, very quickly, which again starts making you think that there was something major going on with the airplane," said William Voss, director of the Flight Safety Foundation.
"Everything has at least one or two levels of backup and so something had to happen that started pulling these things offline one after the other because otherwise the aircraft would have been able to continue and at least be able to get to a diversion airport," Voss added.
Ballard, now director of the Center for Ocean Exploration and Archeological Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, said those ocean conditions could present a major challenge.
"The terrain here is worse than the terrain where we lost the Titanic," Ballard said. "The Titanic is sort of like in the Badlands of the Dakotas compared to the Rocky Mountains."